Sunday, February 28, 2010

One person's opinion about the 2010 Winter Olympics (UPDATED)

1st UPDATE: 10:40 p.m. EST: Congratulations, NBC. Not only do you not know how to cover an Olympic Games, you also think it is perfectly acceptable to break up the Closing Ceremonies broadcast in order to slip in a preview of a new entertainment show. Please, please, please do not bid on another Olympics in this or the next millennium. Thank you...for nothing.

I can only imagine what the IOC is thinking of NBC's decision to cut from the Closing Ceremonies in order to preview a new show (that I will not provide the name of). What a stupid decision, but consistent with NBC's corporate mentality.

I cannot recall a more idiotic programming decision in recent television history. Why do you anger your audience by taking them from the Olympics (and the television producer in me is convinced NBC edited this program; I'll work on getting evidence for that tomorrow)?

On a separate point -- and responding to athensoh, which wrote to ask about the potential for NHL players being yanked from the Olympics. As I understand it (and if anything I say here is incomplete or inaccurate, I ask someone to correct me), the NHL is concerned about the quality of play resulting from compressing the season on the front and the back end of the Olympics. A 2-1/2 week break from games does play havoc with the teams.

But I also believe there is something more -- the NHL is looking for what it gets out of what it gives up. And today provided a strong piece of evidence that if it voluntarily removes itself from the Olympics, it has surrendered its opportunity to expose its best athletes to an audience that doesn't always get to see them.

To me, that would be a bone-headed decision, akin in my mind to a television network cutting the Closing Ceremonies into two parts so as to show an entertainment program and then the local news.

No one would be that dumb.

ORIGINAL POST: As we await the Closing Ceremonies and the extinguishing of the Olympic flame, there is time to offer an assessment of the 2010 Winter Olympics. It began with tragedy and ended with ecstasy, and with plenty of good and bad in between.

It remains impossible to shake the memories of the death of 21-year-old Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died following a horrible accident while practicing just hours before the Opening Ceremonies.

His death reminded people of the dangers of that sport, but perhaps more problematic was the International Olympic Committee's cavalier attitude toward what happened: The IOC went from grieving his death to blaming him for what took place, in a matter of hours.

Terribly crass, especially for an organization that less than 10 years ago saw its reputation shredded by a bribery scandal. It should have known better, and it should have acted with more responsibility.

Once the Games began, the criticism of NBC's coverage began -- and never ended. One American newspaper was generous (if you ask me) and gave the network a silver medal for its work.

One of NBC's major problems was its melodramatic reporting, which reached its high (low?) point in its reporting of American skier Lindsay Vonn. Never has a bruised shin been given more (unnecessary) attention. Did anyone really believe Vonn was not going to ski in the Olympics?

The typical emotional nonsense that surrounded the figure skating (with one exception that I'll discuss below) added to the "puh-leeze" factor that too many people felt.

More damaging to NBC was what it showed (and I'm not referring to the endless commercials), and when. The "Nothing But Curling" moniker rang true, but generally speaking unless it was a figure skater or a skier, it didn't appear on NBC. Relegated to its cable partners, other sports -- mostly curling, speed skating, short-track speed skating, and hockey -- had some time in the spotlight. Others, predictably, were never seen.

Speaking of hockey, the network's decision to air the second night of ice dancing over the U.S.-Canadian men's hockey game was ridiculed by the critics. My attempts at explaining why the decision was made should not have been taken as an endorsement of what took place.

The quality of play in that game and the ratings it generated offered more fodder for the critics.

The even-more-exciting gold medal game between the two countries ensured NBC will generate a huge television rating, and the expectation is that NBC will generate strong ratings for the Games as a whole.

One lingering question: Will the National Hockey League allow its players to be part of the next Winter Olympics? NHL commissioner Gary Bettmann was interviewed during these Games, and he was more than coy about what his sport might do. Granted, there is no rush in making a decision, but the organizers of the 2014 Winter Games deserve to know as early as possible what the choice will be.

Surrounded by thousands of athletes and dozens of sports, it is hard for any one athlete to stand out. But that is what Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette did, as she performed within hours of the death of her mother.

She ended up winning the bronze medal two nights later, and tonight she'll carry her nation's flag into the Closing Ceremonies.

The ending of the a Games always leaves me a touch melancholy. I have appreciated watching them since I was 8, and many years after that I wrote my doctoral dissertation about the Olympics and media coverage of them. As a result, I watch both as a fan and as a critic.

Some of what I saw (and I watched much of it online and on Web sites that were not named NBC.com) impressed me, but not all of it did. Of course, it is far easier to play "Monday Morning Quarterback" and to not be in the meeting rooms where important decisions about coverage, storylines and other issues are decided.

In two years, the Summer Games return; London is the host. Four years from now, Sochi, a city in Russia, will host the Winter Games. I'll be watching.

But for now enjoy the opinions of others, including this report from the Associated Press.

Barack Obama is the new...

...Jimmy Carter?

An unfair comparison, you say? Probably. But you should read this before cementing your opinion.

Iran won't play fair

As the (somewhat tainted) glow of the Winter Olympics prepares to move into our memory banks, there is an intriguing story about the interconnection of sports and politics in the Middle East.

I read with a healthy degree of interest a recent decision by many Arab states to call off the planned Islamic Solidarity Games. Why? As one Middle East expert suggests, Iran's insistence that the Games explicitly reference the "Persian Gulf" turned off many Arab governments.

The cancellation of these Games offers an intriguing look at the "what is an Arab?" question, but it also suggests that Iran has failed in any attempt to link its internal and international agenda to the rest of the Middle East.

Perhaps this negative response to Iran has emboldened the Iranian opposition, which attempted to reassert its voice this week.

Sadly, an entire generation of Iranians (and Iranian leaders) have grown up being identified as an international pariah. The fantastic history and culture of this land and its people has been reduced to boogieman status because the government has insisted on creating a heavily conservative view of Islam while calling for the destruction of a sovereign Israel.

Another post-mortem of Russia's Olympic team (and the IOC)

This time, it's TIME magazine that captures the uneasiness in Moscow and throughout Russia, in the aftermath of the poor showing of that nation's athletes at the Olympics.

For more on this topic, be sure to visit this post that was written yesterday.

At the same time, let's not forget that the critics of the International Olympic Committee remains under fire for its less-than-golden performance in Vancouver. The crass way in which it quickly blamed the death of an Olympic luger on himself was just the tip of the iceberg.

We can hope this organization takes the time to (again) review its policies and procedures before the 2012 Games in London.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Over the next couple of days...

...let's do some media comparisons.

In the aftermath of the earthquake that struck Chile, there are legitimate expectations that the U.S. media ought to cover what happens there with the same intensity they did following Haiti's earthquake.

Of course, we can hope that the American media do not again fail to equate lots of people with lots of quality reporting. As anecdotal evidence, my wife told me more than once that she appreciated the depth of reporting offered by the BBC, which had fewer reporters in Port-au-Prince in the days after the Haitian earthquake.

She was spot on -- too often, shallow reporting was evident in the American coverage. I saw too many reports designed merely to throw the same spotlight on a different "scene of horrible destruction." And the doctors-turned-journalists crossing the line between being medical and journalistic professionals disturbed me; I say this as politely as I can -- be one or the other in a time of crisis.

Granted, the distance from Haiti to the U.S. (1432 from Port-au-Prince to Washington) is shorter than from Chile to the U.S. (4992 miles from Santiago to Washington), and that might play a role in how many people and resources are devoted to the Chilean earthquake.

Moreover, the death toll in Chile will come nowhere near that of Haiti.

Nevertheless, the American media will send news crews to Santiago. We can hope those people don't make the same mistakes that were evident in Haiti.

The once-mighty Big Red Machine (UPDATED)

1st UPDATE: 9:00 p.m. EST: Heading into the final day of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Russia has won 3 gold, 5 silver and 7 bronze medals. Those 15 medals right now place the Russians 5th among all nations that have won at least one medal in Vancouver.

By comparison, in 2006, Russian athletes won 8 gold, 6 silver and 8 bronze (the 22 total medals were the 4th most won by any nation). In 2002, those figures were 5-4-4-13, which was the 5th most medals won by any nation. And in 1998, it was 9-6-3-18, the 3rd most won by any country.

Fairly or not, the casual Olympic fan is going to look only at the number of gold medals, in an effort to determine which nations have done well at the Olympics. And when they do this year, they will see 3 next to Russia. Never did the USSR win that few number of gold medals.

You can understand why the pressure is on the host nation -- Russia -- to do far better in 2014.

ORIGINAL POST: The collapse of the Soviet-era sports empire is complete, and it has Russian citizens worried.

The Russians have underperformed at the Vancouver Olympics; and considering they host the next Winter Games (2014, Sochi), it is understandable why the Russian people want to see improvement. And now.

Long gone are the days of the Big Red Machine, the Soviet sports system that won more medals than any other nation in almost every Olympics in which its athletes took part. We can argue now about the morality of that system; but in the context of this post, it is more important to remember national pride.

Former president and now prime minister Vladimir Putin has ratcheted up the rhetoric in recent years, reminding the Russian people of their proud, strong history. Furthermore, he wants them to believe they need not consider themselves second to anyone in terms of accomplishments, ability and pride.

But few Olympic accomplishments suggest a lack of ability (however flawed that connection ought to be) and a decline in national pride. Thus, the challenge to current president Dmitri Medvedev -- how quickly can resources be devoted to Russia's Olympic-level and other national sports programs? But more striking: putting those precious resources into sports means taking them away from what?

Indeed, sports are more than fun and games, but how much is athletic prowess worth? Sure, it suggests national strength, but at the expense of what?

More on "backpack" journalism

Good primer here from the Wall Street Journal about the leaner news staffs evident at ABC, CBS and NBC.

As I read stories such as this one -- and it seems I can find at least one every week -- I come out with two thoughts: We won't know for perhaps a generation what effect these cuts have had on news storytelling, and are journalism educators (including myself) doing all we can to prepare students for this new era of journalism?

I say it will take perhaps a generation because the initial drafts of how informed the public is, is only now being written. And "how well informed" someone is, is not an easy thing to measure. Nevertheless, we know that well informed must include receiving regular reports of hard, objective and unbiased news about government, economics, education and other areas of life that are important.

I know what you're thinking, and you're right -- far too many news organizations are not doing that today. Instead corners are cut; lifestyle and other "easy to report" news enters into the headlines; talking heads clog up news holes; and the easy-to-level charge of bias is evident.

The newspaper industry is the primary source for the critical information people need, and that raises the intriguing question of what could happen if that industry makes a concerted effort to be a full-service -- print, video and online -- news operation.

But asking the newspaper industry to fill the void misses the point: Television news is not like newspaper reporting, and only now are the first real "convergence-ready journalists" entering newsrooms. It will take time for these journalists to establish their mark. And journalism educators need to do more to ensure they have the most complete skill sets in their "backpacks."

That means a continuous examination of the courses being taught, who teaches them and how well students interact with industry professionals (and that's just for starters).

Yes, there is much work to do to ensure that the future of journalism includes the same hallmarks of quality that the past did. A tough task? Sure, but does anyone want us to fail?

Friday, February 26, 2010

There are some things you don't joke about

Doing harm to students is definitely high on that list. And when it happens, a punishment is required.

But notice what led to the suspension -- comments on Facebook.

Which living former president...

...is considered the most obnoxious? The answer might surprise you.

Politico.com's Mike Allen reports in his Daily Playbook:

George W. Bush, whose book will be out Nov. 8, at this morning's closed-door Bush-Cheney alumni reunion breakfast, now under way at a downtown hotel: 'This is going to come as quite a shock to people up here that I can write a book, much less read one.' He says former Vice President Cheney is not coming, as originally planned, but 'is feeling well' and 'has a fierce constitution.'

More 43: 'I have no desire to see myself on television. I don't want to be a panel of formers instructing the currents on what to do. ... I'm trying to regain a sense of anonymity. I didn't like it when a certain former president -- and it wasn't 41 or 42 -- made my life miserable.' (I'm lookin' at you, #39! The one thing the 'formers' agree on: They don't care for Jimmy Carter.)


Carter?

The yea and nay of backpack journalism

More broadcast journalists are being asked to do it. They can complain, but it won't matter.

Of course, economics and technology are driving the conversation.

Misplaced priorities? (UPDATE)

1st UPDATE: 2:30 p.m. EST: The governing body for ice hockey in Canada has apologized for the on-ice celebration.

I suspect this will take care of any IOC investigation that would have discovered...that a group of women wanted to celebrate their gold medal. How un-Olympian of them!

ORIGINAL POST: I admit to being more than a bit offended that the International Olympic Committee is planning to investigate the on-ice celebration involving the Canadian women's hockey team, which won the gold medal last night.

Really? Seriously?

The champagne-swigging, cigar-smoking actions of the hockey players warrants an investigation? Of what? A group of adult women opted to celebrate their athletic accomplishment -- not to mention the last time it likely will ever be together -- in a way completely consistent with adult behavior. (Granted, at least one player is underage, so there is some explaining to do in that regard. But I'm sure she's never been exposed before to alcohol. No, that would be non-Olympian.)

This is the same IOC that needed about 6 seconds to investigate the death of a Georgian luger, and then blamed him for it.

I've already said enough.

Satellite radio is making...

...money?

Count me among those who are stunned to learn that Sirius-XM has posted a profit, its first since the two satellite companies merged.

The aforementioned story also indicates that the good financial news could continue.

Hmmm....interesting

Let's cut four of our athletic teams in an effort to help stabilize the budget for our collegiate athletic department. Then let's add a new team.

You talk about mixed messages!

Targeting foreigners

It seems today's Taliban attack was designed to deliberately attack foreigners.

And this raises an interesting question, in my mind. Would you classify this as an act of terrorism? If so, then what words would you use to describe what took place in Austin, TX earlier this month?

Apologize? For what?

It appears another politician has gotten his mitt in the ringer for making a stupid, offensive comment; and he wants a media organization to apologize for how it interpreted his remarks.

I think after you read this report, you'll agree no apology is needed.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Oh, Canada!

After tonight's gold medal winning performance by the Canadian women's hockey team, perhaps the end of the (wonderful) Canadian national anthem can be re-written to say:

God, keep our HOCKEY..."gold"-ious and free. Oh, Canada...we stand on top o' podium for thee. Oh, Canada...we stand on top...of hockey!

If you think about it...

The conversations taking place in Washington today about health care are far more important to the country than the current successes of the U.S. Olympic men's (and women's, come to think of it) hockey team. But do you want to compare television ratings?

The U.S. is number one...

...and Canada is number two.

In being lazy.

Hey, don't shoot the messenger. Read the list, and fire off your comments to someone else.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Almost 1,000 Americans are dead as...

...the fight for the future of Afghanistan continues.

This Washington Post story and graphic

There are two things about this report that stun me -- the figure (I didn't expect it to be so high) and the general absence of media coverage reporting the deaths of American soldiers in Afghanistan or Iraq.

War fatigue? Perhaps, but a weak excuse.

Style over substance?

That is always the concern when politicians get together for a summit -- will the unimportant issues get in the way of the real discussion?

As Politico.com's Martin Kady notes, that could be the case as the so-called health care summit moves closer:

So now Democrats and Republicans are arguing about podiums and who gets to sit at the adult table at the health care summit.

Republicans don't want President Obama to have a podium, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted on a larger negotiating table, Glenn Thrush and Carrie Budoff Brown report in POLITICO this morning.

Each side has spent days strategizing over what to say, who will say it and how to beat the heck out of the other side at tomorrow's summit. It's beginning to sound more like an expanded presidential debate forum than a legislative negotiating event.

No matter – Democrats are already gearing up for ways to pass their plan with a simple majority under reconciliation – but do they even have the votes for that at this point? It's unclear.


You would think that the issue of how many votes each side has might play an important role in any conversation.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It's Cisco vs. Google

In the battle for...an ultra-fast Internet.

The Financial Times reports:

Cisco Systems is developing an ultra-high-speed system for internet access in partnership with a number of US service providers, according to people close to the company.

The move by the US telecommunications equipment maker comes just weeks after Google promised it would build an ultra-high-speed fibre-optic system. Unlike Google, Cisco’s move does not appear to conflict with existing broadband network operators.

And speaking of dropping people...

...ABC reportedly is jettisoning 300-400 jobs in its news division.

Wonderful. Just great.

A drop of 105,000

To put that figure in perspective, the number of people who have lost a job in the newspaper since 2001 could just about fill Michigan Stadium, one of the largest college-football facilities in the country.

The man of Steele...

...is a big spender.

This from Politico.com's Jeanne Cummings:

'Republican National Chairman Michael Steele is spending twice as much as his recent predecessors on private planes and paying more for limousines, catering and flowers – expenses that are infuriating the party's major donors who say Republicans need every penny they can get for the fight to win back Congress.

Most recently, donors grumbled when Steele hired renowned chef Wolfgang Puck's local crew to cater the RNC's Christmas party inside the trendy Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue, and then moved its annual winter meeting from Washington to Hawaii.

For some major GOP donors, both decisions were symbolic of the kind of wasteful spending habits they claim has become endemic to his tenure at the RNC.

When Ken Mehlman served as the committee chairman during the critical 2006 midterm elections, the holiday party was held in a headquarters conference room and Chic-fil-A was the caterer. ...

'Michael Steele is an imperial chairman,' said one longtime Republican fundraiser. 'He flies in private aircraft. He drives in private cars. ... He fancies himself a presidential candidate and wants all of the trappings and gets them by using other people's money.'


My two cents: Steele is not long for the job. And that would be a good thing.

A giant of the House

Politico.com's John Allen captures how the House is dealing with the passing of one of its giants -- Pennsylvania's John Murtha:

'John Murtha's seat in the southeastern corner of the House chamber sat empty Monday, save for a folded American flag that had flown over the Capitol in his memory.

'The chair, reserved for the senior Democratic member of the Pennsylvania delegation, was Murtha's power perch for years – a gathering spot for Pennsylvanians, defense appropriators and a coterie of other friends and protégés who learned the House's rhythms and folkways at Murtha's knee. It is rare that any vacant seat would cause the House to truly pause. But Murtha wasn't just any member, and his chair isn't just any seat. Murtha's charm, seniority and power over the massive Pentagon budget gave him outsized sway in an era in which party leaders have grown in strength and few individual lawmakers have the clout to influence others. His post at the edge of the floor was a hub of behind-the-scenes activity.'

Great. Just great.

In a move to "reallocate resources" (and don't you just love it when you get the bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo), a Los Angeles television station has canceled its midday news program.

What's replacing it? Would you believe a repeat of an entertainment program.

I doubt this FCC has the intestinal fortitude necessary to look into this decision, but we can hope it does and therefore will.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The television ratings for the USA-CAN hockey game are in

And it should not at all surprise you that they were good. So good, in fact, that it appears more people watched last night's game than Game 7 of last spring's Stanley Cup Final between Pittsburgh and Detroit.

The tough choices

Colleges and universities -- and not necessarily just public ones -- are re-examining their various programs. Granted, the prolonged economic downturn has played a role in this process, in which small programs are facing scrutiny.

That process, as this Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story notes, is happening at Pennsylvania's 14 state-run institutions.

There is no magic formula to help determine what programs ought to stay and which ought to go. But a transparent process is a must, as is one in which the criteria for the evaluation is clearly stated and understood by the various constituents. Linking these decisions to concrete areas of academic assessment is critical as well.

Bashing NBC

It's an easy thing to do these days. And when the network opts to air ice dancing instead of men's hockey, as it did last night, the target seems especially easy to hit.

American television networks are always under scrutiny; and when a special event is being aired (and the Olympics certainly qualify as that), the focus has a real intensity. This year NBC is being criticized for its patriotic approach; but let's not forget that this "homerism" has been at work for many years, and it has been employed by ABC, CBS and NBC.

Moreover, this (shameless) boosterism is being supported by the unexpected success enjoyed by many American athletes and teams. That success means more viewers, and more viewers could mean the network's expected financial loss might not be as bad as initially thought.

I spent time in two classes today explaining why NBC would air ice dancing over men's hockey. I explained that the expected Olympic audience -- women -- generally favor artistic sports over physical ones. Moreover, the skating program has become a signature event at the Winter Olympics, with the American audience now expecting to see such events all the time. In addition, ratings for the NHL are not strong, so there is little support for surrendering a prime-time slot to a "niche" sport. (And, yes, I recognize that figure skating is even more niche than hockey.)

Few people could have expected the intensity and passion that was on display during last night's USA-Canada game, one that would have rivaled a Game 7 of a Stanley Cup Finals.

In short, the decision made by NBC executives looked like the wise one when it was made. But once it was made, there was no decision to make an adjustment, one that recognized it was missing a tremendous opportunity to generate potentially stronger ratings and consistent with what a "patriotic" audience would have wanted.

A gold medal performance, it was not.

The president offers a plan

This from The New York Times:

President Obama on Monday laid out for the first time a detailed legislative proposal for overhauling health care, largely sticking with the approach passed by the Senate with unified Democratic support in December but making concessions to the House version as well.

Mr. Obama's proposal is the opening act to a week of high drama around health care that will culminate on Thursday, when the president convenes Democrats and Republicans at an all-day televised health care "summit" at Blair House. The White House is hoping the session can jump start the stalled health bill.


I expect the Republicans will reject this idea outright, and you can therefore count me among the many who believe that the summit on Thursday will be heavy on the symbolism and light on the substance.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cyberwar with Chinese characteristics, part 2

This report from the Financial Times:

US analysts believe they have identified the Chinese author of the critical programming code used in the alleged state-sponsored hacking attacks on Google and other western companies, making it far harder for the Chinese government to deny involvement.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell thinks...

...that former Vice President Dick Cheney is more than a little of base in criticizing President Obama. Mr. Powell made his comments this morning on the CBS program Face the Nation.

Here is a summary of his remarks, from the Washington Post:

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said former Vice President Dick Cheney's claims that President Obama's policies are putting the nation at risk have no basis, especially since most of the programs and procedures the Bush administration enacted have been continued or heightened under the Obama tenure.

Powell pointed to the ending of waterboarding as an interrogation tool and the success of criminal courts to try terror suspects, both during the Bush administration, as examples of why Cheney's claims of less safety are not "born out by the facts." Powell supported the Obama administration's preference of criminal courts over military commissions for suspects, including 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Christmas day attacker Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who, Powell pointed out, would get a lawyer in a military commission as well as in a civilian court.

Asked about progress in Iraq, Powell, who championed the invasion as secretary of state, said history will be the ultimate judge of events there. He said mistakes were made after the initial fall of Baghdad, but he said he hopes the Iraqi government will seize control of the opportunity they've been given by the United States.

He cautioned fellow conservatives who call President Obama a socialist, saying rough-and-tumble politics is nothing new, but to constantly criticize without attempting to offer new ideas is not productive.

"Have we so lost our faith in this country that we think one person, one man, can suddenly change our entire system?" Powell asked. "That's kind of absurd."


And still I wonder what Powell said to himself to justify walking into the United Nations on that fateful February 2003 morning and announcing that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

When you perceive that you are not wanted...

...do you interact, in hopes of changing perceptions; or do you insulate yourself?

This Washington Post story reports that for many Muslim families living in the U.S, the decision is to remove their children from local schools and turn instead to home schooling.

Mind you, the "you are not wanted" reference is not an implication that students are treated poorly; rather, it is based on the assumption (however flawed it might be) that the public schools system is based on an overly secular attitude that many families -- regardless of faith -- will find uncomfortable.

I spent most of my elementary years in public schools, most of which in hindsight I would assign a B grade in terms of the quality of education I (think I) received. My wife and I have placed our sons in a public school system, and we are very satisfied with it.

These are important choices that parents have to make, and I'm not going to automatically dismiss any decision that suggests home schooling doesn't work. But I also will acknowledge that there are important diversity, extracurricular and other options in public schools that no home school child can receive.

Dear CPAC members...(part 2)

It appears you have young faces in your movement, but the same old tired ideas to present them.

But I'm sure that Ben Smith's column referenced above will be passed off as just another example of the liberal-leaning media.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dear CPAC members...

...you held the poll. So, you can't complain that the guy who won is exactly the guy whom you didn't want to win.

If you don't like it, then don't hold the poll one year from now.

One person's reactions after week 1 of the Olympics

These are in no particular order:

1. The success of the American team is based on two factors -- new events in which they dominate (i.e. the "X Games" events) and the collapse of the Soviet/East German sports machine, which provided constant challengers for medals

2. I've heard and seen enough of Lindsay Vonn

3. If I ever get to attend a Winter Olympics Games, I'm heading for the luge/skeleton/bobsled track, where the real action can be found

4. If NHL players are going to continue participating in the Olympics, then changes to the NHL schedule are mandatory. The quality of play so far in the Olympics -- based solely, in my opinion, on the absence of practice time for almost all of the teams -- has been average

5. The death of the Georgian luger was handled poorly by the Vancouver Olympic Committee and luge's governing body

6. NBC's coverage stinks; I'm spending more time watching the Games online (and through non-NBC sites) than watching NBC's programming

7. One of the signature moments thus far -- Canadians singing "O Canada" with a depth of passion and energy after one of their own one an Olympic gold medal for the first time on home soil

8. I can't get into curling, or short-track speedskating

9. I haven't been able to get "Ordinary Miracle" out of my head since Sara McLachlan performed it at the Opening Ceremonies

10. The controversies of the week (save for the death of the Georgian luger) have been over-dramatized by the media

Friday, February 19, 2010

Woe, Canada?

Perhaps it's more accurate to say Woe Vancouver.

Spite. Not a good way to conduct journalism

There's only one way to say this -- the Boston Herald needs to drop its 'tude and start covering Northeastern University's men's basketball team.

Let's call this what it is -- a money grab

In my opinion it's only a matter of time before students at one Pennsylvania college file a lawsuit to stop a college-sponsored initiative that I think is a blatant money grab.

Moravian College is requiring non-commuter students to live on-campus and commuter students to purchase a college meal plan. Students are (justifiably) outraged.

The college's justification for the policy is specious, as I read it.

I see it as nothing more than an institution attempting to grab more money from its students. That is sad. But perhaps it's also inevitable considering the finding crisis that exists at too many institutions.

If it wasn't terrorism...

...then what was it?

This report comes from the daily "Political Bulletin" put out by U.S. News:

Texas software engineer Joseph Stack on Thursday crashed his single-engine airplane into a building housing an IRS office in Austin. The incident is receiving heavy press coverage -- including the lead reports on all three networks last night -- with news stories generally casting it as an attack by a disgruntled taxpayer rather than a terror attack, and noting that the FBI is leading the investigation. Most reports also detail the self-described "rant" Stack wrote on his website about his anger with the IRS.

ABC World News reported that Stack "was apparently enraged at the government over his tax problems," and "authorities found a long online diatribe believed to be written by...Stack against what he called 'Mr. Big Brother IRS man.'" President Obama "was briefed by his top counterterrorism adviser," but "investigators determined it wasn't terrorism, it was a criminal act, by a lone American on a suicide mission."

The CBS Evening News reported that images of the burning office building "brought back memories of 9/11 and fears of terrorism." NBC Nightly News reported that as all this was breaking, the Pentagon scrambled two F-16 fighter jets," and "the NTSB and the FBI are knee-deep into this investigation."


So, I'm going to ask one question: If this slamming into a federal building had been done by a Muslim or an American citizen who practices Islam, then what exactly would it have been called?

My point: Notice how quickly we throw around the word "terrorism" when a Muslim does something that involves potentially taking the lives of innocent people and how unwilling we are to use it when a non-Muslim does something akin to it.

Tiger Woods -- a first reaction

I'll give Tiger Woods credit -- though he stayed silent for too long (in my opinion), he has owned up to his mistakes. It will take a long time to rebuild his image with the public (not to mention his family), but he demonstrated in his speech that no apology is possible unless the person who screwed up can admit to that.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

More bad news about the luge and bobsled track...

...at the Vancouver Olympic Games.

This excerpt comes from The New York Times:

An Olympic luge athlete injured in a crash at the Whistler Sliding Centre in November warned Canadian officials about safety hazards at the track months before a competitor was killed last week at the Vancouver Games in an accident on the same course.

Werner Hoeger, who competed in the Turin and Salt Lake Games for Venezuela, said he lost consciousness and sustained a concussion during a botched training run on Nov. 13 after his sled caromed off an opening in the wall near the women's start ramp. His injury most likely prevented him from attempting to qualify for the Olympics, he said.

In a volley of letters and e-mail messages sent to Canadian and international luge officials since his crash, Hoeger warned that the track was unsafe and raised the same issues -- including a lack of access to practice runs -- now being debated after Nodar Kumaritashvili of the Republic of Georgia died on Friday.

Cyberwar with Chinese characteristics

This report comes from The New York Times:

A series of online attacks on Google and dozens of other American corporations have been traced to computers at two educational institutions in China, including one with close ties to the Chinese military, say people involved in the investigation.

They also said the attacks, aimed at stealing trade secrets and computer codes and capturing e-mail of Chinese human rights activists, may have begun as early as April, months earlier than previously believed. Google announced on Jan. 12 that it and other companies had been subjected to sophisticated attacks that probably came from China.


As you read this bit of information, I also urge you to read something else -- a story in this month's Atlantic from James Fallows, the magazine's former China correspondent. He examines how cyber warfare has the potential to be as economically devastating as 9/11. And it can be called a form of terrorism.

If he's "failed" the American people, and it's only 2010...

...I can't wait to hear what Republican presidential aspirants, including Mitt Romney, who made the "failed" comment, will say about President Obama.

It didn't used to be this way. Only in the past 10-15 years has a president been vilified on a daily basis by men and women who want to hold that job. And with the Internet, blogs and other form of "new media," it becomes possible for these presidential wannabees to make it into the news discussion on a daily basis. All it takes is a blistering attack on the president -- deserved or not -- to get yourself into the mainstream media conversation.

I'll let you decide if that's a good thing.

I'm not doubting that PBS...

...is America's most trusted news agency.

But I'm a bit disappointed to read that the survey that brought about that result was commissioned by...PBS.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Is the baby of a political figure fair game?

Is Sarah Palin's criticism of a Family Guy skit in which Down Syndrome is mocked appropriate?

Mrs. Palin said the skit "felt like another kick in the gut."

Various editorial writers and columnists have weighed in on the Family Guy program.

I wonder what Justice Alito thinks of this

Perhaps he'll accuse the Washington Post of a lie? The paper is reporting that an overwhelming number of Americans who responded to one poll say the Supreme Court's decision to allow corporations to spend whatever amount of money they want on campaign contributions was a mistake.

The divide still divides

A new report suggests that broadband Internet -- without question, it provides superior Internet use to people who have it -- remains the domain of the "haves."

The body of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili...

...has arrived home.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The combative mayor...

...the inquisitive media.

That usually makes for a tense press conference. And that happened today.

Evan Bayh says "see ya"

This from Politico.com's Martin Kady II --

It's rare that a congressional retirement catches political insiders by surprise, but Evan Bayh's bombshell Monday did just that.

Bayh had $13 million in the bank, was up double digits in the polls and was poised to play a serious role as a swing vote in a diminished Senate Democratic majority.

But instead he's packing up and bailing, and he doesn't have nice things to say about Congress. 'I do not love Congress,' may become one of the more famous career epitaphs in recent memory for a retiring politician.


The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza examines what Bayh's departure means for Democrats, Republicans and the culture of politics in Washington.

The symbolic passing...

...of the Olympic torch.

If you wanted any evidence that the "Big Red Machine" (aka the former Soviet Union) is dead and gone and that a new "Big Red Machine" (aka China) has become the most prominent challenger to U.S. dominance at the Olympics, then look no further to last night.

The gold medal in pairs figure skating, which had been won by a Russian couple in every Winter Games dating to 1960, was won by a Chinese couple.

If you want any additional evidence, consider this: thus far, no Russian has won a gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics.

Yes, the torch has been passed.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Remember Kenneth Starr?

The man who prosecuted former President Clinton is the new president of Baylor University.

The Georgian luger is dead...

...and one NBC News executive says the video of his death will no longer appear on any NBC News program.

The decision comes on the heels of NBC and other networks facing strong criticism for the decision to air the video in which the luger slides off his sled and careens into a steel pillar.

Meanwhile, luge enthusiasts continue to ask whether that sports governing body has swept under the rug any serious investigation into the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili. A funeral service was held in Vancouver today before Kumaritashvili's body was prepared to be sent home.

One robot equals...

...12 people.

At least that ratio appears to be true at one Oregon television station, where an automated system was brought in and 12 people were sent out.

Wonderful. Just wonderful. It is bad enough that jobs are being cut as news divisions are now expected to be profit centers. Now, we continue to see jobs being slashed in favor of automated systems.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The death of an Olympic luger, continued

The New York Times captures a sentiment I have felt since Friday night -- the governing body of international luge and the Vancouver Olympic Committee seemed more interested in getting the luge competition underway than in thoroughly investigating what caused the death of a 21-year-old luger from the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

The Los Angeles Times' Bill Plaschke offers a similar assessment. In his at times blistering critique of the IOC and luge's governing body, Plaschke asks:

If there were no deficiencies in the track, then why did Olympic officials shorten it and slow it after the death, moving the men's starting line down to the women's starting line, and the women's line down to the junior starting line?

Either it was the track's fault or it wasn't. And if it was the track's fault, shouldn't it have been shut down for a few days to conduct a real investigation?


And considering the president of Georgia was in Vancouver and asking questions about the death of an athlete from his country, perhaps a more complete investigation was warranted.

Meanwhile, if you watched NBC's Olympic coverage last night, you perhaps caught Bob Costas' comment that the network would not show the video of Nodar Kumaritashvili during any of its remaining Olympics broadcasts.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

So, Anthony, should the TV networks have shown the video...

...of the Georgian luger who died following a training run at the Olympics?

The death of the luger overshadowed the Opening Ceremonies, which, in my opinion, were elegant. Not even a malfunctioning pillar detracted from a ceremony that will be remembered for its celebration of a nation's culture.

But the death of an athlete couldn't be ignored, and it wasn't.

Earlier in the day, Nodar Kumaritashvili was on his final training run when something went terribly wrong. One CNN report described what happened this way:

"As he came out of the course's 16th and last turn, Kumaritashvili was thrown from his sled and struck a steel pole at the side of the track. Although he was given CPR at the scene and taken to a hospital, doctors were unable to revive him, the International Olympic Committee said."

In today's media-saturated world, the question was not if there was video of the tragedy, but how soon would it be released. The answer: in about 5 hours.

The accident took place around 1:45 p.m. EST, and at 6:30 p.m. EST (when the U.S. nightly news broadcasts began) the video was there for all to see. (I understand it might have been posted even earlier on YouTube, but I've not been able to verify this.)

Last night, I offered readers of my Twitter, Facebook and blog the opportunity to sound off on whether releasing the video was appropriate.

One person said still photos, but not the video, were sufficient to tell this story. Another person said there was no news value inherent in the video. A third person called it "careless and senseless." "Seedy" and "disrespectful" were words used by others.

On the flip side, one person suggested showing the video was necessary: "By showing what really happened to this guy, it really hits the viewer and makes them think for a moment about how sad it is, and ALSO the dangers these athletes face every day that maybe we don't ever think about or realize exist. I have more heartfelt sadness for him and his family, and a deeper respect for what these athletes endure by witnessing the accident for myself."

In a similar vein, someone wrote: "The speed at which it happened is at issue and the speed at which the accident happened tells that essential fact in a way that words can't. So, it tells the story better than any other way. My only quesiton (sic) is whether the graphic nature of it detrcts (sic) from the actual storytelling. Personally, I don;t think so."

Another reader commented: "Yes, without a doubt the video should be shown. The American media withholds "disturbing" images from the public, which is quite a paternalistic attitude. It has contributed to a social expectation that we should be sheltered from unpleasantness. Like it or not, bad things happen. It is the media's duty to reflect reality, not ensure comfort."

Let's use the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics as a basis of the conversation.

The first standard is "seek truth and report it." One sub-section of this standard is germane to our conversation; it reminds journalists to "(m)ake certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context."

The broadcast media have no problem here; the video was not altered or distorted. Moreover, how the accident happened was explained in sufficient detail and people were warned that watching the video could make them uncomfortable. So far, so good.

The second standard is "minimize harm." Here, our conversation grows a bit murky. In demonstrating their understanding of this standard, journalists are expected to "(s)how compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage." They also are expected to "(s)how good taste [and] (a)void pandering to lurid curiosity."

Airing the video once would seem sufficient to reporting the truth of what had happened; however, that did not happen. In much the same way that we saw multiple times the World Trade Center towers come down on Sept. 11, 2001, so, too, either in actual broadcasts or online (where it can be viewed as often as someone wants) did we see Mr. Kumaritashvili careen out of control and then slam with a stomach-sickening thud into a steel pillar.

Thus, the question: Is there a point (better said as a number of airings of a tape) at which reporting the truth becomes a pandering to lurid curiosity? Going from memory, NBC showed the final seconds of Mr. Kumaritashvili's run three times in the opening few minutes of its Olympic broadcast on Friday night. That's a decision I find difficult to defend, but that doesn't mean it was wrong.

Let's move on.

Third, journalists are to "act independently." This standard deals with perceived or real conflicts of interest that can develop in reporting, and it offers no help as we decide whether airing the video was a wise choice. We'll skip it.

Finally, journalists must "be accountable" for their actions. Perhaps the most important sub-head to remember is that journalists should "(c)larify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct."

The necessity for news organizations to discuss their motives and decisions with their audience has become more important in this Internet age. Simply put, journalists can't hide any longer. "Post your comments on our Web site" is perhaps the most simple, effective and used method for the public to offer their opinion or input. In this circumstance, if the comments are of sufficient number (and I hope they are) and are supplemented by serious public discourse, NBC and other news organizations will be compelled to explain why they chose to air the video multiple times.

But this interaction serves only as a reactive agent, and I don't think it's germane to deciding whether the video should have been presented.

Thus, in my opinion we are dealing with two questions: Does the video tell the truth? Were journalists pandering to curiosity in airing it more than once?

"Yes" is the only answer to the initial question. Because of that, the video has news value and is essential in helping journalists report what happened to Mr. Kumaritashvili.

"No" is my answer to the second question. The tape needs to be explored on multiple occasions in order to gain the best possible understanding of what happened to the Georgian luger. This opinion is reinforced by the initial findings about the accident filed by the Vancouver Olympic Committee and the governing body for luge. CNN reports:

"The Vancouver Olympic Committee and the luge federation, known by its French initials FIL, outlined their findings in a joint statement.

"It appears after a routine run, the athlete came late out of curve 15 and did not compensate properly to make correct entrance into curve 16," they said. "This resulted in a late entrance into curve 16 and although the athlete worked to correct the problem he eventually lost control of the sled resulting in the tragic accident. The technical officials of the FIL were able to retrace the path of the athlete and concluded there was no indication that the accident was caused by deficiencies in the track."


In other words, human error.

The tape is critical for journalists and the public to form their own opinion, especially of a sport that an overwhelming majority of people know so little about. Granted, the untrained eye cannot know if Mr. Kumaritashvili did indeed make mistakes that led to his death. But we nevertheless need to see the video through to its conclusion many times in order to fully understand what happened.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The death of an Olympic luger (4 x UPDATE)

4th UPDATE: 11:12 p.m. EST: How NBC dumped the original script to cover the death of the Georgian luger.

3rd UPDATE: 9:48 p.m. EST: Quite an ovation for the Georgian delegation as it comes into BC Place.

2nd UPDATE: 8:18 p.m. EST: The Canadian media also are asking about whether the video ought to be shown.

And for those waiting for a lengthy reaction from me, keep waiting. Clearly I have an opinion, but I'm waiting to see how the conversation develops here and on my Facebook page before offering a substantive reaction to the story.

1st UPDATE: 6:55 p.m. EST: Media reports indicate the Georgian Olympic team will participate in tonight's Opening Ceremonies.

ORIGINAL POST: CBS News is one of several news agencies showing video of the accident that killed a luger from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia.

The decision to put this video online (and I'm presuming these news organizations also are playing it in their various news broadcasts) offers an excellent teaching moment for those of us who teach broadcast journalism.

The most fundamental question is -- why show the video?

I'll let you pick up the conversation from there.

The U.S. military goes on the offensive

This from The New York Times:

American and Afghan troops launched an attack on Marja, a Taliban-held town in southern Helmand Province, The Associated Press reported. In this attack, commanders say they will do something they have never done before: bring in an Afghan government and police force behind them. American and British troops will stay on to support them.

Marja is intended to serve as a prototype for a new type of military operation, based on the counterinsurgency thinking propounded by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal in the prelude to President Obama's decision in December to increase the number of American troops here to nearly 100,000.

Vancouver...go get 'em (4 x UPDATE)

4th UPDATE: 8:20 p.m. EST: Protests -- a natural by-product of an international sports event -- have come to Vancouver. This is a legitimate story, although in the excitement surrounding the Opening Ceremonies and the death of the Georgian luger will overshadow the protesters.

3rd UPDATE: 6:10 p.m. EST: The investigation into today's death of the Georgian luger will include whether there was a design flaw to the track. Remember, this track will host the bobsled and luge events during the Vancouver Games.

2nd UPDATE: 6:00 p.m. EST: Toronto's Newstalk 1010 offers a point-of-view ride of the luge run.

1st UPDATE: 4:20 p.m. EST: On the eve of the Opening Ceremonies, tragedy. A luger from the former Soviet republic of Georgia has died in a training accident.

This New York Times story includes a photo of the young man as he veered off the track.

ORIGINAL POST: The next 16 days will be filled with ice skaters, skiers, lugers, hockey players and a host of other Olympic athletes.

But first the Opening Ceremonies, and the age-old question -- who will light the Olympic Flame tonight?

They love me...they love me not

Oh, come on, Sarah...you knew they love you.

"They" refers to the mainstream media, which as this story notes, are infatuated with the former governor and former vice-presidential nominee.

Mrs. Palin would be wise to remember that the same news organizations that now are treating her like a rock star were the same ones that during the 2008 presidential race made a mockery of her intelligence and political acumen.

Does the (reasonable) political junkie believe those questions have been sufficiently answered by the (almost guaranteed) 2012 presidential nominee?

The President against the Speaker of the House

Politico.com offers an explanation as to the difference of opinion -- becoming more public by the day -- between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Pelosi:

'House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's increasingly public disagreements with President Barack Obama are a reflection of something deeper: the seething resentment some Democrats feel over what they see as cavalier treatment from a wounded White House.

'For months, the California lawmaker has been pushing Obama hard in private while praising him in public. But now she's being more open in her criticism, in part because she feels the White House was wrong - in the wake of the Democrats' loss in Massachusetts - to push the Senate health care bill on the House when she knew there was no way it would pass. Earlier this month, Pelosi criticized the president's State of the Union call to exempt defense spending from a budget freeze. And in a White House meeting with leaders of both parties this week, she questioned the effectiveness of his plan to give small businesses tax breaks to hire workers.

'What you're seeing now in public has been building in private,' said a top House Democratic official. 'House members did their work - they did everything the president asked of them. And it gets stuck in the Senate. Or the Senate screws it up.'


Perhaps a dose of reality will do Mrs. Pelosi some good. Again, from Politico.com:

'Speaker Nancy Pelosi will travel to Haiti today with a bipartisan, bicameral Congressional delegation. In a statement this morning, Pelosi says: 'In the spirit of President Obama, we go to demonstrate the ongoing American commitment to the Haitian people - that they will not be forsaken or forgotten. First and foremost, our delegation goes to pay our respects to the Haitian people who are suffering from the tragedy. It is also crucial that the House and Senate - on a bipartisan basis - have the opportunity to examine the ongoing reconstruction efforts ahead of the U.S. Congress considering long-term reconstruction assistance for Haiti.'

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A sure-fire way to tank your ratings

Why would NBC in this era of instant communications believe that showing its Olympic coverage from Vancouver on tape-delay will work?

In reality, it knows tape-delay won't; and the network is planning for lower-than-expected ratings as a result.

In the "old days" (read the 1960s through most of the 1980s), Olympic broadcasters had a somewhat easy job -- produce an Olympics telecast that suggested the United States was going to (athletic) war with the Soviet Union. Now, the big, bad Commies are gone, and no new "boogieman" has replaced them. (The Iraqis? Come on.)

Moreover, and more germane to this post, the increased presence of instantaneous communications ensures that many, many people will know the results of events long before they will be shown on television. (And the Vancouver organizers are dealing with that already -- bits and pieces of tomorrow night's Opening Ceremonies are starting to filter out through so-called "new media".)

The International Olympic Committee cannot deny this reality, and it certainly is something any television network will need to take into consideration as it bids on the rights to future Games. Do not misunderstand me -- the Olympics brand remains strong, and it is one of the few international sports events that cuts across various viewing demographics. But producing the broadcast is different now.

BBC executive to news staff: Adapt or...

...leave.

This story provides a solid piece of evidence that the BBC will be moving to a full embrace of social media.

And apparently if current news personnel are not prepared to do that, they ought to seek other employment.

Happy Anniversary, Iran (UPDATED)

1st UPDATE: 1:05 p.m. EST: The expected protests with the expected results are taking place in Iran.

ORIGINAL POST: And what a way to celebrate!

First, the president confirms that the country has enriched its uranium, but the validity of that claim has come under question.

Then, the government clamps down -- and probably violently -- on any attempts to protest the direction the country has moved in recent years.

Next, that same government has shut down one of the world's most-popular search engines -- Google.

And overshadowing all of this is the internal battle for who deserves (a loosely used term) to be considered the rightful heir of Ayatollah Khomeini, who ushered in the revolution 31 years ago.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Exploring North Korea

This is something you ought to see.

Embedded about halfway down this report is a link that will take you to 14 segments highlighting a roughly one-week period an American journalist spent in North Korea.

The images he captured and his impressions of what he saw will make you think about how successful (and I use that word carefully) one small group of individuals can be in limiting the informational, developmental, technological and educational opportunities to their people that are taken for granted in other parts of the world.

As we consider whether economic, political or other sanctions will work against North Korea, these stories will compel you to ask -- how will they matter?

Iran (3 x UPDATE)

3rd UPDATE: 9:12 p.m. EST: A statement such as this worries me: "[Our] enemies will have no opportunity for maneuvering and presenting themselves." For more, access this story from the Fars News Agency.

2nd UPDATE: 9:05 p.m. EST: Iran has indeed seen to it that Internet communication throughout the country is hampered.

1st UPDATE: 3:20 p.m. EST: FOX News confirming that Google e-mail has been suspended from Iran and a new national e-mail system is soon to be unveiled.

ORIGINAL POST: My most recent post included the announcement from the Iranian government that it is suspending access to GMail and setting up its own national e-mail system. I'll attempt to update that story ON THIS POST as the day progresses.

But a more ominous (and sadly not surprising) story is taking place in the hours leading up to tomorrow's anniversary of the Islamic Revolution: a crackdown on opposition protests. I'll also attempt to update.

You must be kidding me

This from the Wall Street Journal:

Tehran announces Gmail shutdown, says it will launch a national email service. The shutdown is unconfirmed; Google is not yet able to comment.

You must be kidding me

This from the Wall Street Journal:

Tehran announces Gmail shutdown, says it will launch a national email service. The shutdown is unconfirmed; Google is not yet able to comment.

An early look at the 2012 GOP presidential race

This is a fascinating article. It sifts through the political posturing and suggests how each of the most likely GOP presidential contenders can secure his/her party's nomination in 2012.

Whoa, just a minute

First, read this from The Heritage Foundation:

Yesterday, USA Today ran an editorial on the Obama administration's handling of terrorism, writing: "Officials’ handling of Christmas Day attack looks like amateur hour." Graciously given the space to respond to this charge, Obama administration Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan replied: "Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda."

Got that? The Obama administration considers any criticism of its national security policies, even from as benign a source as USA Today, as serving "the goals of al-Qaeda."


Was it not the Bush administration that incessantly reminded anyone who would listen that any criticism of what it was doing was coddling the enemy? Where was The Heritage Foundation's outrage then?

We're less than 24 hours...

...from the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

And on the eve of that "celebration," Iran is a country divided.

The opposition is not backing down, and neither is the government. Of course, the government is not only defiantly fighting off its internal "enemies"; it also is playing that dreaded cat-and-mouse game with the international community because of its insistence on moving forward with its nuclear program.

The United States remains an outspoken critic, and at least for now it is finding support from Russia, which says the West's fears about Iran's nuclear intentions are legitimate.

An editorial in the Jerusalem Post asks if both Iran and the West have contributed to the tension about the nuclear issue by offering mixed signals to the other side.

Who's in charge here?

Washington is a mess...and I'm not talking about the weather miseries that have yet again befallen the nation's capital.

Instead I'm referring to the latest evidence to suggest Democrats don't seem to know whom to ally with, and Republicans are...well, I'm still not sure what Republicans are doing.

Yesterday, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, told the president to re-think his idea about tax breaks for businesses that create new jobs, while the House Minority Leader, John Boehner, told Mr. Obama that he would be wise to scrap any health care plans currently on the table if he wants the Feb. 25 health care summit to be a success.

In other words, a Democrat slapped him on one cheek, and a Republican smacked the other one.

You can't blame the president for running to the media -- and let's face it, that's what he did -- in order to voice his frustration.

Seeing the obstinate nature of the GOP these days, I am baffled by one report that suggests it is closing the "trust" gap on Democrats. By doing what, exactly?

Oh, wait, I remember -- Republicans are playing the terrorism card.

Perhaps it's a good thing that Mother Nature is hammering Washington with snow -- she has caused the House to cancel all votes under discussion this week. Perhaps some time away will do these people some good.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

This week could be dangerous... (UPDATE)

UPDATE: 4:35 p.m. EST: Should we be surprised this is happening?

ORIGINAL POST:...in Iran.

The anniversary of the Islamic Revolution is Feb. 11, and there is the potential for the government forces (and its propaganda) clashing with the Iranian people who are seeking change.

Meanwhile, and the timing of this cannot be a coincidence, the country's nuclear ambitions were raised with a report that Iran had begun to enrich uranium. Israel was the first of what could be several countries to call for increased sanctions against Tehran.

Protesters gathered outside the Italian embassy in Tehran today to voice their displeasure at Rome's decision to support any effort to penalize Iran for its nuclear ambitions.

The clashes mentioned above are sure to be the emotional peg to any story about Iran over the next 24-48 hours, but remember that in the absence of Western reporters in the country it will be difficult to gain a firm grasp on how the military and police agencies respond to any anti-government protests.

Alabamans like Mike

A new poll -- for what any poll is worth these days -- suggests Alabama Republicans like Mike...as in Mike Huckabee.

These poll data should come as no surprise -- Huckabee's message will play well in the South, and don't forget that Mr. Huckabee is from that part of the country.

Mind you, Mr. Huckabee has not announced he's running for president, though if you ask my opinion I think he will.

Back to square one?

From Politico.com's Martin Kady:

The great bipartisan health care summit of 2010 is beginning to look like another act of political theater.

Republicans insist on completely starting over with a 'blank' sheet of paper – a move that would help them stall the Democratic agenda further. Idealistic Democrats are still holding out hope for the public option – making Republicans think Democrats aren't serious about a bipartisan bill.

It's hard to see how these parties could find a real compromise on health care at this point, but the summit will make for good TV.


And this from The New York Times:

It is not clear that Republicans and the White House are willing to negotiate seriously with each other, and Mr. Obama has rejected Republican demands that he start from scratch in developing health care legislation.

But Congressional Republicans have laid out principles and alternatives that provide a road map to what a Republican health care bill would look like if they had the power to decide the outcome.

The different approaches will be on display Feb. 25, when lawmakers from both parties are scheduled to go to Blair House, across the street from the White House, for a televised clash of health policy ideas.


As you read the language in those story excerpts, it is hard to see how the Feb. 25 event will be productive. And that, in my opinion, is precisely what the Republicans want. But they could be playing a dangerous game, if the president can make it clear that he is trying to be more moderate -- in other words, listen to the American people -- while the GOP remains glued to the right side of the political spectrum.

And I didn't need to scribble that on my palm to figure it out.

Monday, February 08, 2010

We're playing fast and loose with the numbers

I've read in multiple places today about the estimated number of people who watched yesterday's Super Bowl. Let's be careful how these statements are written. Here's (I hope) a complete summary of what you need to know:

1. Yesterday's Super Bowl appears to be the most-watched program in U.S. television history. However,...
2. The game is not the highest-rated program in U.S. television history.

The final episode of MASH is critical to understanding this because until Sunday it was the highest-rated and most-watched program to ever appear on American television.

With that in mind, more people watched yesterday's Super Bowl than any other event in U.S. television history. Remember, this is total viewers, not ratings. For the record: Final MASH episode--60.2 rating; yesterday's Super Bowl--46.4; Estimated total viewers--MASH: 105.9 million; Super Bowl: 106.5 million.

Most watched and highest rated are NOT the same thing.

What exactly was the fuss all about?

Wow, that Super Bowl commercial involving Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother was so controversial!

I mean, how dare a mother appear on television to profess her love for her son and at the same time admit to her fears of a trying pregnancy.

Right after the commercial aired yesterday, I turned to my wife and said, "That's it? There's no controversy there. It's a mom and her son."

In fact, as you consider the merits of the Tebows' commercial, consider the message inherent in the GoDaddy commercials (which I have deliberately chosen not to provide links to here).

Enough said.

In case you missed it...

...I was interviewed for a local news story about the weekend snowstorm that blasted Pittsburgh.

If you want to be a viable political party...

...you must do more than say "no."

The Financial Times' Clive Crook reminds the GOP of that important political premise in this editorial.

What a strange 12 months it has been -- the Democrats have lurched to the left and angered the American people; the Republicans have offered no significant political initiatives and have been rewarded with victories in three states (New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts); a populist-inspired "National Tea Party" has had a one-time vice presidential nominee address its "convention"; and the blame game goes on.

Let's hope 2010 brings real political leadership.

Here we go again

This from the BBC:

'Iran has announced immediate plans to step up its nuclear programme, which Western nations fear could be used to make a bomb. Its nuclear chief said Iran would start enriching uranium to 20% from Tuesday, and that 10 new uranium enrichment plants would be built in the next year. Ali Akbar Salehi said the enrichment would take place at Natanz, Iran's main uranium enrichment plant. The move heightens fears Iran is moving closer to weapons-grade uranium.'

Here's the way I see it -- unless and until the West demonstrates that it will do more than threaten to do something, nothing is going to stop Iran from moving forward with attempts to develop a nuclear bomb.

The administration is trying to control the message

Don't they all?

The current White House press corps continues to voice its frustration at the president using new media and the one-on-one interview as a means of by-passing that group.

I'll be curious to see their reaction to Mr. Obama's decision to offer live television coverage of a planned health summit he's holding later this month with a group of Republicans. In other words, if the president and the Republicans simply by-pass the media (not likely in the case of the GOP) as they "spin" the summit -- both before and after it happens -- will the mainstream media openly criticize that choice?

The media-president rules are changing, and the still-being-written new rules are not going to be favorable to the "old" media. But more germane to this conversation, for the mainstream media to not acknowledge that president's have attempted to by-pass them in the past would be foolish; the technology is finally catching up to the attempts.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

And so another professional football season comes to an end

Congratulations to the New Orleans Saints for winning the Super Bowl. To borrow a line from an old television commercial -- "they earned it."

There is considerable debate at times about which of the four "big" professional sports leagues is the model. From where I sit -- as a former sports journalist, someone who still appreciates professional sports, and someone who is cognizant of the relationship between the media and sports -- I don't think any of the four can be considered operating at an "A"-level in 2010.

Major League Baseball is hamstrung by a terrible disparity in talent, and I've advocated on this blog and elsewhere that a salary cap is the only way to fix it. There are simply too few teams each year with a legitimate shot at winning a championship, and an even shorter list of franchises that can sustain a championship-level club for more than 2-3 years. On top of the economic problems are the long memories of the steroid era. Little more about that needs to be said here.

The National Basketball Association lacks a viable franchise in most of the major media markets. One of its primary stars destroyed his professional and personal image a few years ago in a Colorado hotel room. The general public also seems less interested than ever in the game. The magic (pardon the pun) that existed for about 15 years with players such as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan is gone. The public knows it.

The National Hockey League has an even worse problem in that regard. Its in-season American television contract is with a cable network that used to be known principally (if not exclusively) as the place to turn to watch the Tour de France. The league has lost its momentum in the Sun Belt and the West, where in both locations a minimum of four teams could legitimately need a new home (except there aren't four good places to move them).

And then there is the National Football League. A labor battle is looming on the horizon. While that is the worst of the league's problems, there also are chronic concerns about the long-term health of its players, an issue that the league office and the players' union have at times been negligent in their attention.

Of the four leagues, the NFL is in the best shape; but I'm not sure that is saying much these days.

The call to bipartisanship has been issused...

...now (and yet again) it's up to the Republicans to answer it. This from Politico.com:

President Barack Obama told Katie Couric during a Super Bowl pregame interview that he plans to hold a health-reform summit with congressional leaders later this month. “I want to come back [after the Presidents’ Day congressional recess] and have a large meeting -- Republicans and Democrats -- to go through, systematically, all the best ideas that are out there, and move it forward," Obama said.

And this from the Washington Post:

President Obama made a dramatic attempt to jump-start the stalled health care debate Sunday, inviting Republicans in Congress to a half-day summit on the subject to be televised live later this month.

The president made the offer in an interview with CBS News anchor Katie Couric just hours before the Superbowl. Obama challenged Republicans to come to the discussion armed with their best ideas for how to cover more Americans and fix the health insurance system.

"I want to consult closely with our Republican colleagues," Obama told Couric. "What I want to do is to ask them to put their ideas on the table... I want to come back and have a large meeting, Republicans and Democrats to go through, systematically, all the best ideas that are out there and move it forward."

The invitation to join him later this month follows comments he made on Thursday during a speech at a Democratic fundraiser in which he said he wanted to sit with Republicans and "walk through the [health care plans] in a methodical way so that the American people can see and compare what makes the most sense."

It also comes just weeks after the president received high marks for engaging the House Republicans in a televised, 90-minute discussion at their retreat in Baltimore. The president has been hammered by critics who said his year-long push to revamp the health care system did not live up to his campaign promise to conduct the debate in the open.


I don't mean to be naive, but the history of our country is for any member of Congress to respond positively to an invitation to meet the president at the White House. That is civility (among a host of other applicable terms). If any member of the GOP snubs the president, he or she should have to answer to his or her constituents.

However, in this "he's not my president" world in which we've lived for the past decade (or more), it's very possible that a snub (by many) could come. How sad that would be.

But I'll remain optimistic and with reason: CBS' Mark Knoller tweets the following:

House GOP Ldr John Boehner quick to issue statement welcoming Obama's invitation to bipartisan conversation on HCR.

Another snow storm? On Tuesday?????

Uh, Pittsburgh...we have a problem. We're digging out of Snopocalypse...but we could be staring at another six inches of snow on Tuesday!

The door is still open

This from Sarah Palin on FOX News:

Former Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin said it would be "absurd" to rule out a run for the 2012 presidential election.

"I won't close a door that could perhaps be open for me in the future," Palin said in the Fox News interview at the Tea Party convention in Nashville where she was the keynote speaker Saturday night.

Palin said if President Obama continues on the path he's on today, "He's not going to win" as an incumbent candidate in 2012. Palin said Americans are becoming frustrated because he "expects us to sit down and shut up and accept" his policies. Asked specifically which policies, Palin said Obama has been condescending to the American people with his "general personality."

Palin suggested that if President Obama declared war on Iran in the next two years, the political landscape would change dramatically in his favor. "There wouldn't be as much passion to make sure that he doesn't serve another four years," Palin said.

She said her knowledge about foreign policy and domestic economic issues has significantly increased since she was a vice presidential candidate. "My focus has been enlarged," Palin said.

She said she admired the Tea Party efforts because they are seeking "common sense solutions" that will right the economy and put the country back on the track of fiscal responsibility.

When asked whether or not her political enemies had run her out of gubernatorial office in the middle of a lame-duck term, Palin responded "Hell, no." Palin said her popularity had been adversely affecting her administration's day-to-day duties, and resigned because she did not want political distractions such as lawsuits against her to harm Alaska's well-being.


Setting aside whatever personal opinion you have about Mrs. Palin, I ask this question: Does anyone have a problem with two openly presidential aspirants -- Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin -- remaining visible news contributors and analysts on FOX News?

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Is this arrogance or stupidity?

You have to love, just love, the trustees of Ohio State. That august body has approved a football ticket increase for Ohio State games. In this economy? Is it arrogance or stupidity?

Snow, snow...everywhere

I woke up this morning to 18 inches of snow in my front yard...



...which has turned my neighborhood into a white out!!



The Moretti family (and the dog!) trudged out into the snow this morning. One of us had lots of snow shoveling to do...



...while building a snow trench and fighting off some bad guy from Star Wars was more enjoyable to the younger crowd!



But that was a-ok with me, because I had...



...man's best friend to keep me company.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Snowmageddon...Snowpocalypse (4 X UPDATE)

4th UPDATE: 10:45 p.m. EST: The unofficial snow total for Pittsburgh -- according to the Moretti's backyard -- 9.5 inches.



And here's what it looks like as you look out our back door and toward our neighbor's house:



3rd UPDATE: 9:05 p.m. EST: The unofficial report from the Moretti backyard -- 6 inches of snow, and it's still coming down!!



2nd UPDATE: 8:25 p.m. EST: The Moretti backyard around 8:25 p.m. EST.



UPDATE: 6:50 p.m. EST: And now the playhouse -- with snow still falling -- at 6:45 p.m. EST:



ORIGINAL POST: Snow job?

Nope, that doesn't appear to be true this time. Two pictures -- one of a giant tree in our front yard...



...and one of our playhouse in the backyard.


These were taken at 4:20 p.m. EST on Feb. 5, 2010. I'll track the storm as it does (or perhaps doesn't) hammer the 'Burgh.